U2 – Theologians of the Cross?

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Crux sola est nostra theologia.

(The cross alone is our theology.)

Martin Luther

Luther

I have very much enjoyed listening to the new U2 Album “Songs of Innocence” that was made available for free by ITunes to me and multitudes of others. I had not been, listening much to U2 in the past decade or two, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. I was also intrigued that they were also still writing songs that not only reflected “Christian” themes, but that this collection seemed to contain a common and “most important” theological thread. Moreover, that thread happened to be one which I have been interested in for many years, but have been studying more intensively for about a year. It is also considered by those that believe in it, to be the only “theology” true to the name “Christian.” It is called the “theology of the cross.” My own introduction to it came several years back through Alister McGrath, and the catalyst for my re-introduction and current studies was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Through Bonhoeffer I went “back” to Luther, and then “forward” to Douglas John HallGerhard O. Forde, and Michael P. Knowles. I mention all of these potentially boring details in case the reader may want to pursue the “theology of the cross” more fully (follow the links).

What is the “theology of the cross?” A brief excerpt from the four years shy of 500 yr. old document published in 1518 by Martin Luther called the “Heidelberg Disputation” will introduce it for us:

Thesis 19

That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have actually happened (or have been made, created).

Thesis 20

That person deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God through suffering and the cross.

Thesis 21

A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

So why do I think that U2 are “theologians of the cross” in this new album? (Disclaimer: This theory of mine is driven solely by the lyrical content of these songs, not by any knowledge of their personal or even public lives.) I think so because of the common theological “thread” running through the songs that I can only summarize as exhibiting a “theology of the cross.” At this point, rather than belabor my theory, I’ll let brief excerpts from each song be the witnesses for the theory. In the process perhaps the content of these excerpts will further fill in what a “theology of the cross” looks like. This perhaps is a proper way to understand it, because Gerhard O. Forde says it is more precisely not a theology “about the cross” but rather a theology “of the cross.”

The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)

I was young

Not dumb

Just wishing to be blinded

By you

Brand new

And we were pilgrims on our way

 

Every Breaking Wave

Every sailor knows that the sea

Is a friend made enemy

 

California (There is No End to Love)

There’s no end to grief

That’s how I know

That’s how I know

And why I need to know that there is no end to love

 

Song for Someone

You’ve got a face not spoiled by beauty

I have some scars from where I’ve been

You’ve got eyes that see right through me

You’re not afraid of anything they’ve seen

 

Iris (Hold Me Close)

Hold me close, hold me close and don’t let me go

Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know

Hold me close, the darkness just lets us see

Who we are

I’ve got your life inside of me

 

Volcano

Your eyes were like landing lights

They used to be clearest blue

Now you don’t see so well

The future’s gonna fall on you

 

Raised by Wolves

Boy sees his father crushed under the weight

Of a cross in a passion where the passion is hate

 

Cedarwood Road

Sleepwalking down the road

Not waking from these dreams

‘Cause it’s never dead it’s still in my head

 

Sleep Like a Baby Tonight

Hope is where the door is

When the church is where the war is

 

This is Where You Can Reach Me Now

Soldier soldier

We signed our lives away

Complete surrender

The only weapon we know

 

The Troubles

God knows it’s not easy

Taking on the shape of someone else’s pain

God now you can see me

I’m naked and I’m not afraid

My body’s sacred and I’m not ashamed

In conclusion, I believe  that a lyric in “Song For Someone” provides an integrative key to the thread, subsiding all the songs under the “theology of the cross.” The song also speaks to my disclaimer at the outset regarding the status of their “real” lives. For taken at face value, this seems to be a sincere confession of faith, showing U2 does not claim to have “arrived” at some type of “perfection” (which is a theology of glory anyway) but instead merely hope that whatever their light God won’t “let it go out.”

And I’m a long long way from your Hill of Calvary

And I’m a long way from where I was and where I need to be

If there is a light you can’t always see

And there is a world we can’t always be

If there is a kiss I stole from your mouth

And there is a light, don’t let it go out

I have tried in this post to in an introductory fashion merely introduce the “theology of the cross” and the relation of U2 to it. As always, and especially if I have “left you hanging” in any way,  would happily welcome any questions or comments regarding any of the songs, other excerpts, theologians/links, or anything else related to the post. Remember, nothing ventured – nothing gained!

I am adding this edit because since the time I wrote this post I started a facebook group wherein I plan in time to discuss some important issues that U2 raises for the Christian Church. In fact I have already posted a little bit about the last verses in “Cedars of Lebanon.”  Another post that explains more is here.

Thank you

Bryan @ Manifest Propensity

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One thought on “U2 – Theologians of the Cross?

  1. “And despite the fact that hipsters love to hate on it, I actually think U2’s latest album, Songs of Innocence, inhabits exactly this space, pushed and pulled between immanence and transcendence (not surprising, given the echo of Blake).” This statement is in an interview of Trevin Wax with James K. A. Smith about Charles Taylor’s important book about secularism called “The Secular Age.” Here is the link to the entire interview: http://www.christianity.com/blogs/trevin-wax/mission-in-a-secular-age-a-conversation-with-james-k-a-smith.html

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